Letter from the chairperson

Zola Tsotsi  

In the two decades since South Africa achieved its freedom, our country has made enormous progress. Eskom has played a central role in this transformation. Between 1994 and 2014, our generating fleet capacity has been expanded from 37 636MW to 41 995MW, and our power lines have increased from 238 964km to 359 337km. Over the same period, the proportion of households with access to electricity has risen from 44% to 85%1. Since the inception of the capacity expansion programme in 2005, a total of 8 930 individuals have participated in skills development and a significant number of jobs have been created through these mega projects

1. Based on the StatsSA 2012 General Household survey, revised in October 2013.

There is a need for energy security in South Africa to support the country’s much anticipated economic growth in the future. Eskom is committed to its purpose to provide sustainable electricity solutions to grow the economy and improve the quality of life of all South Africans. In the years ahead, the current capacity expansion programme will, once completed, result in a more secure national power supply that can meet the country’s needs.

South Africa is now experiencing the consequences of deferring planning and investment decisions in years gone by. In order to keep the lights on, Eskom has had to run its generating plant at significantly higher load factors, which continues to have a negative impact on the overall plant performance and the health of the plant. Even as new capacity enables Eskom to bridge the gap, careful management of existing resources is required to ensure that we do not push our ageing plant beyond sustainable limits.

Over the past year, Eskom has worked extremely hard to keep the lights on and, apart from 14 hours in March 2014, we have done so successfully. We recognise that load shedding has serious economic and social impacts and are working tirelessly to avoid this, keeping in mind that our mandate is to ensure the integrity of South Africa’s power system. All of our resources – human, technical and financial – are geared towards ensuring that electricity generation, transmission and distribution remain secure and sustainable over the long term. Eskom resorts to load shedding only when not doing so could lead to a longer, more damaging shutdown of the entire system.

The electricity tariff approved by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa in 2013 resulted in lower revenue than Eskom has applied for which has serious consequences for our business and future sustainability. We have launched the business productivity programme which aims to reduce cost, increase productivity and enhance efficiencies, but the revenue shortfall cannot be addressed through cost savings and efficiencies alone. We continue to engage our stakeholders in this regard, but cost-reflective tariffs remain a requirement.

It remains critical for us to balance the short-term priority of security of supply with long-term operational and financial sustainability and this entails difficult trade-offs to be made, amongst others:

Given the tight reserve margin, we have operated the more expensive diesel-fuelled open-cycle gas turbine (OCGT) stations far above previous load factors to ensure a continuous supply of electricity. In light of our revenue outlook, this situation is not sustainable
Eskom’s Generation sustainability strategy will improve plant health and reliability in the long term, but the need for maintenance should be balanced with the current power system and financial constraints
Ensuring that the older coal-fired stations meet the strict atmospheric emission standards is a challenge. Should our older plant persistently exceed the legal limits for atmospheric emissions, the board may have to consider using the plant at reduced capacity, which would place even greater pressure on security of supply and possibly have a negative financial impact

These are difficult trade-offs that not only Eskom, but the country, should consider.

Integrated decision-making at a policy level is needed to ensure that the country looks beyond the end of the current capacity expansion programme. This involves planning for new power stations in a timely manner, including the diversification of energy sources, building and strengthening the distribution and transmission networks, addressing environmental concerns, securing an adequate, affordable supply of primary energy as well as moving towards cost-reflective tariffs.

Clarity on new power stations beyond Kusile is required for all participants in the electricity sector. Nearly two-thirds of Eskom’s power stations are beyond the midpoint of their expected lifespans. While we have not yet been allocated any new base-load capacity after Kusile, we are exploring diversification of our energy sources to complement our generating fleet in future, thus ensuring security of supply to the country. This includes the development of a gas strategy, which entails the conversion to combined-cycle gas turbines in the short term and upstream gas activities in the long term. These decisions are not Eskom’s and we are confident that, working with the shareholder, these questions will be addressed comprehensively during the period ahead.

On behalf of the shareholder and the board, I would like to thank Mr Brian Dames, Eskom’s former chief executive, who stepped down at the end of the reporting period. Brian spent 27 years with Eskom and brought both skill and dedication to his position. The position of chief executive has been filled by Eskom board member, Mr Collin Matjila, on an interim basis until a permanent replacement is identified.

We welcome Ms Tsholofelo Molefe, formerly the group executive: Group Customer Services, as our new finance director.

The board thanks the executive management committee for their vigilance and determination in confronting the challenges facing Eskom. We have a highly competent management team in place. We recognise, however, that the vacancies at senior level needs to be addressed. This will be one of the first priorities of the incoming chief executive, who may also want to shape the management structure.

A team from the Cullinan technical service
centre fix a technical fault on a distribution line

A note of appreciation is owed to our former shareholder representative, the Honourable Minister Malusi Gigaba and the Department of Public Enterprises, who have supported and guided Eskom on the path to sustainable growth. Eskom’s board and management have been fortunate to have an active and accessible shareholder representative who enabled us to understand government’s thinking on key issues. The overall strategic direction of Eskom is aligned to the Department of Public Enterprises’ vision statement “To drive investment, productivity and transformation in its portfolio of state-owned companies, their customers and suppliers so as to unlock growth, drive industrialisation, create jobs and develop skills.”

This report covers a period when a democratic South Africa bid farewell to its founding president, Nelson Mandela, who was an inspiration to all of humanity. As he once said, “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” This is precisely the situation facing Eskom. We are dedicated to fulfilling our mandate, but the board will not allow Eskom to commit itself beyond its means. It is critical for Eskom to ensure a balance between security of supply, financial and operational sustainability and environmental compliance and to responsibly manage the trade-offs that are required.

Drawing inspiration from former President Mandela, we will successfully confront the challenges we face in the years ahead.

Zola Tsotsi